Time management and commutes

I thought the genesis of this idea was Rory Sutherland, but he probably got it from Nassim Taleb who writes that fifty, one foot falls is different from one, fifty foot fall. It also came up on Acquisitions Anonymous where Mills Snell noted thirty years of experience could be two people or ten and the situations are quite different. Taleb got it from someone too – King Solomon? – that it exists in many places is good reason to take note.

Rory Sutherland writes that life is not commutative like mathematics. Put numerically: 20,000×1!=1×20,000. Credit Karma acts on this, rewarding $25 spent for lunch rather than a few tenths of a percent in interest. Gifts and maybe mileage reimbursements may act under the same human tendency.

Time management writes Peter Drucker in The Essential Drucker is also not commutative.

“To write a report may, for instance, require six or eight hours, at least for the first draft. It is pointless to give seven hours to the task by spending fifteen minutes twice a day for three weeks. All one has at the end is a blank paper with some doodles on it.”

Rather Drucker suggests locking the door, removing the phone and six hours without interruption. Then one can finish the “zero draft, the one before the first draft.” And only then work in small installments.

Is this commutative?‘ can be another problem solving prompt. In true cases, there’s no gain in rearrangement. In false cases, switching from water cooler meetings to off site meet ups, can result in different outcomes on similar inputs.

“To have small dribs and drabs of time at his disposal,” writes Drucker, “will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours.”

Money problems

We looked at three problem solving prompts: What happens at the limits? Is this a money problem? Is this a branding problem? Today two money problems.

Zynga had just done their earnings call, said Shawn Puri, and Draw Something “had taken away significant steam from Zynga’s games.” With a user shortfall Mark Pincus decides to buy Draw Something. Retelling the story, Puri says that the lawyers told Pincus the deal would take a month. Why? That’s the limit. So Pincus “hired two law firms, one for the morning shift one for the afternoon shift, so he could have a twenty four hour cycle working on the deal and got it done in half the time.”

Puri is recounting his conversation with Draw Something CEO Dan Porter and while the details may be wrong the big idea could be right: hiring twice the labor, even lawyers, demonstrates a money problem.

Crops are not a money problem. Ukraine’s top six crops cover about the same planting area as in Iowa and Illinois. Russian’s wheat production is about four-million Kansas’s said economist Scott Irwin. Crops take space. They also take time. The Southern Hemisphere can plant more winter wheat now – but there’s not that many great places to plant it. The Northern Hemisphere can plant more spring wheat now – but it’s a less productive crop relative to the winter version.

Irwin lays out some options for crop production solutions and it’s not a money problem.

One of the Zeckhauser maxims is to take ideas to the extreme. Thinking about money-as-a-solution does this. How would I solve this with a billion dollar budget? Or How would I solve this with no money? These questions and this thinking expands the solution space.

April 2022 update Odd Lots podcast that batteries as a carbon replacement are NOT a money problem but a time and government

Three problem-solving prompts

1/ What is the asymptotic limit? To be a multi-planet species, says Elon Musk, people will need to design, build, and use reusable rockets. Okay. Is that possible? One way is to think to the limit. “Look at the raw materials of a rocket: aluminum, steel, titanium, Inconel, speciality alloys, copper. Now ask the weight and raw material value. That sets the asymptotic limit for how low the cost and weight can be unless you change the materials.” Musk calls this the magic wand number. What’s the cost if you had a magic wand to rearrange the atoms?

Another way Musk uses limits is to think about scale. Making many versions of a thing is much much harder than one version. This too is a problem for Disney imagineers, writes Kevin Rafferty. Coming up with attractions is fun but the hard work is what Rafferty calls ‘day two problems’. What happens when this thing has to be open for ten hours a day 365 days a year?

2/ Is this a money problem? Starting the cable channel Discovery, John Hendricks had a lot of challenges. One was content, but that was easy. The BBC was willing to sell their documentaries to Hendricks and enjoy the found money. Later Netflix would take this to detrimental consequences to the content providers, but in 1985 Ted Sarandos was managing eight video rental stores in Arizona.

But there was cable regulation working against Hendricks. The deregulation of cable (like with airlines) wasn’t a money problem. Host Guy Raz analogizes it to having a new iced tea and having to call every convenience store operator in America to get on the shelves. Hendricks then had one problem that was a money problem but another that was a political one.

3/ Is this a branding problem? One of the covid lessons ‘we clearly haven’t learned‘ according to Zeynep Tufekci is to follow best practice. “We have everything we need,” she told Ezra Klein, “not a day goes by that I don’t get a pitch for some gimmick, some new mask that is blah blah blah. Thank you, but I just need an N95. I don’t need your new potentially miraculous science.”

This, says Rory Sutherland, is a marketing mistake. Good marketing changes the perceived value without changing the thing. Good marketing is ‘being better than Superman‘. To Tufekci, we’ve not figured this out – yet.

2a March 24 update, winter wheat is the largest wheat crop in the world and that has to be planted in certain places at certain times. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is going to influence how much the planted wheat can be harvested. This is not a money problem.